Andy Serkis & WETA's Joe Letteri Chat About Bringing 'Apes' to Life
For those that weren't able to catch the WETA Digital livestream revealing Fox's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it's running on loop all day, but here's a quick recap as well. The live event contained a brief behind-the-scenes featurette with director Rupert Wyatt as well as live interviews with WETA VFX Supervisor Joe Letteri and actor Andy Serkis, who plays the lead ape Caesar in the movie. The trailer will officially be online tomorrow morning, but until then we've got plenty of new quotes, more to learn about the story, and some cool concept art like the piece seen below and this VFX digital progression from Empire. More ahead!
"It's about an animal that rages against the machine," was a great quote from Rupert Wyatt to start. Serkis, later on, stated that this is a very "domestic" story yet also social and emotional. In talking about bringing Caesar to life, much was revealed about the story and concept for this franchise reboot. "He had to be a real chimp, but he had to undergo this revolution," Letteri explains. "We need to be able to see the changes. Partly that's physical, but mostly it's an emotional story." Caesar starts to perceive why he's different than other chimps and humans and starts to question his place in the world. There's a "tremendous character arc he goes through where he has to understand and figure out his place in the leadership of this revolution."
It starts with James Franco, though, who plays Will and is a scientist looking for a cure to Alzheimer's and in the process starts to notice that one of the apes they're testing on has begun to be more perceptive. He is a "very unknowing, innocent child that suddenly 'becomes aware the world is not an easily place to live in,'" Serkis says of Caesar. "It's one thing to go about playing a chimpanzee, but to play an ape from infancy to revolutionary leader… It really is one of the most challenging roles I've ever undertaken." Not only did he provide the performance, but Serkis said he's even recording "sounds", as the apes in this don't speak (yet).
"I don't think the audience is going to realize it's a performance captured actor, it looks so real," Letteri boasts. I really hope that's the case! If there's any company that can pull it off, it's definitely WETA. They used the same rig from Avatar to get the "complete performance" all in one go, as they say, and this was also the first time they have ever used a motion capture rig in the middle of a daytime shoot, since all the apes were performed by humans in mo-cap suits on the set while the live-action performances were also taking place. They've only just teased some shots of the final rendering, like that great photo above and video clip earlier this week, but it looks fantastic so far and I can't wait to see the real final product later this summer.
As for Andy Serkis, the man really is a legend, they honestly could not have chosen anyone better to play the role of Caesar. "Playing a role is embodying that character," Serkis mused. "I based him very much on a real-life chimpanzee named Oliver," who was nicknamed "Humanzee" back in the 70's because he was so human-like. Serkis said working on this movie was "an incredibly intense experience", and that includes anyone else who provided motion capture for the apes roles, as there were a couple of actors who did most of the performances. "I never approach a performance capture role any differently than any film role, it's still all about embodying the character, finding the psychology and an emotional core and truth, that's going to tell the story." That's why I love him so much, he really brings that emotion to all of his characters.
"Putting Andy into the live action set [means] we can treat this as if it's not a visual effects film and is all about the performances," Letteri says. And we all know how important that is. "In the world of visual effects films, this doesn't feel like an effects film." The "wows" aren't there per se, Serkis adds, because it's really about the subtlety. "That's why I think it's a really potent and powerful take on the franchise." I'm excited to see the trailer and I've already got a good feeling this new Rise of the Apes could actually be a wonderful addition to the beloved sci-fi franchise. Catch the video loop again or stick around for the trailer tomorrow!